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Customized Employment Project: Massachusetts

1. Statement of Need

David Hoff
Associate Director
Metro North Regional Employment Board
125 Cambridge Park Drive
Cambridge MA 02140

Unemployment and underemployment of individuals with disabilities is a chronic national policy challenge that has gained more attention in recent years. Compared to their nondisabled peers, individuals with disabilities experience higher rates of unemployment, lower than average earnings, limited access to employee benefits, disproportionate representation in low skilled jobs, and higher rates of poverty. Legislation like the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement Act (TWWIIA) and the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) set a standard for federal and state efforts to emphasize employment for all individuals with disabilities. TWWIIA, WIA and the welfare reforms initiatives have increased work incentives and created interest and opportunities for agencies to coordinate activities that assist people with multiple cross-agency needs.

Employment supports are provided by a wide range of service systems including the vocational rehabilitation system, state MR/DD and MH agencies, Welfare-to-Work projects, One-Stop Career Centers, and local education agencies. Despite the increasing emphasis on policy that encourages employment, negotiating access to employment and employment supports remains a challenge for many individuals with disabilities. In addition, success in employment often relies on resolving complex employment-related needs including housing, transportation, and childcare. Not all of these systems share a clear commitment to employment as a preferred outcome for individuals. With the exception of vocational rehabilitation, categorical eligibility requirements prevent many from benefiting from state services.

With the implementation of WIA and the partnership between state employment and training efforts and the vocational rehabilitation system that it defines, an opportunity exists for One-Stop Career Centers to serve as a coordinating point for access to employment across the state service system. As noted in the 1999 report of the Presidential Task Force, "The foundation of WIA workforce reform rests on four cornerstones: choice; integration; accountability; and a local focus. The intent is that all people, including people with disabilities, are customers of this new system" (p. 13).

This project proposes an approach to developing the capacity of the One-Stop Career Centers in Massachusetts to serve all individuals, with a specific focus on individual with significant disabilities who have traditionally been unemployed or underemployed and have not been users of the One-Stop system. Particular emphasis is placed on individuals who have the most limited employment participation including individuals who are in sheltered workshops, day habilitation or day treatment programs; are recipients of SSI or SSDI, are on waiting lists for services with state MR/DD agencies; or individuals who are exiting education services and are likely to enter those programs. Developing the capacity of One-Stop Career Centers to be responsive to this population established a clear benchmark that addresses the WIA value for universal access. This project will:

  • Develop materials and a process that establish the capacity of One-Stop Career Centers to implement a customized employment approach for individuals with disabilities that can be replicated nationally
  • Place 135 individuals who are currently in sheltered employment, day habilitation or day treatment services, waiting for services, exiting school and who would typically enter a facility-based program, or receiving SSI or SSDI in the competitive labor market using a customized employment approach.
  • Develop a training curriculum that address strategies for implementing customized employment including person centered career planning, resource mapping, customized job development, long term support and retention, wraparound support and case coordination.
  • Provide a database-driven web site for local Career Centers that matches individuals to services and supports that they may be eligible to use.
  • Establish alternative funding mechanisms that provide for customer control over resources including Individual Training Accounts (ITA's) and Intermediary Purchase Orders (a Massachusetts DMR flexible funding initiative that uses a fiscal broker), and that merges funding from multiple sources (e.g. DET, vocational rehabilitation, mental retardation or mental health, Ticket to Work, education).